It could have yielded half a dozen goals by half-time, but the two they did score were both beautifully conceived in their different ways. Peter Schmeichel began the first, just as Roy McFarland had warned his Bolton team he was liable to do, throwing the ball to the excellent David Beckham whose cross-field pass released that elder statesman Ryan Giggs for Paul Scholes to knock in his low centre.
The second was even better, a devastating bout of one-touch football down the right side freeing the Premiership debutant Terry Cooke and Giggs scoring from a narrow angle beyond the far post.
Better sides than Bolton would have been undermined by United's precocity and panache, but their approach to this match was mystifying. They left the combative Mark Patterson on the bench for 53 minutes, alongside the transfer-listed and terminally unsettled Alan Stubbs.
The introduction of Patterson marked Bolton's most competitive phase, although that was due at least as much to a tiring United slipping into cruise mode. They even allowed Bolton, warmed until yesterday by the folk memory of twice beating United the last time they were promoted to the top division, a couple of pot shots.
There were few Wanderers' supporters there to witness this mismatch 17 years on, but those who were generated a spirited booing to welcome Stubbs when he finally came on.
United appeared provoked by his arrival as well, clicking back into gear at will for the closing stages and fashioning another memorable goal. Beckham, whose performance was marred only by a booking for kicking the ball away, found Giggs and the Welsh international's chip floated over Chris Fairclough to give Scholes his second.
"They were my favourites to win the title before the start of the season," McFarland said afterwards. "Having seen them play today I see no reason to change that opinion."Reuse content